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How Airplanes Get WiFi 30K Feet Over the Ocean

WiFi access is a modern necessity. It is a basic requirement for everyone, from kids to adults alike. That is why almost all businesses have WiFi access at their establishments as part of their marketing scheme to entice potential customers. Airline companies are not exempted from this. They have also jumped into this bandwagon of adding WiFi access not only on the airport grounds but also on the airplanes themselves. How do planes get WiFi? Read on to find out!


wifi on airplane


How Do Airplanes Get WiFi?


How do planes get WiFi? It can be either through ground-based cell towers or through satellites. Both of these methods provide passengers with full Internet access. However, air-to-ground connectivity cannot handle streaming services.


The Three Main Types of In-Flight WiFi


Gone were the days when we couldn’t send an important email or give a live update to our loved ones while we are 30,000 feet above. Thanks to technology, airline passengers now have easy access to the Internet. Let us dig deeper into the processes of how inflight WiFi works.


ATG (Air-to-Ground)


ATG works similar to how homes or businesses get WiFi – through cell towers. Airplanes have an antenna attached to their bodies. This antenna connects to the cell towers on the ground. The airplane continuously connects to the nearest transmitter while it travels. It serves as a hotspot allowing the passengers to get at least 3 Mbps of inflight WiFi connection.


ATG


Aside from ground-based cell towers, airplanes also get WiFi access from satellite systems. The signal comes from the ground and is beamed to the satellites that are orbiting the earth. These satellites then relay the signal to the airplane antenna, thus, providing passengers with an Internet connection. There are two types of satellite operating systems airplanes use:


Ku-Band


Ku-Band uses 12-18 GHz and delivers around 30-40 Mbps of Internet connection. A Ku-Band antenna is shaped like a large saucer that can be seen at the top of the airplane. It gets the signal from the satellite. Although this service is faster than ATG, still, the speed may change. This is due to factors like the number of planes currently connecting to the satellite and the traveling speed of the signal. Known Ku-Band providers in the airline industry are Gogo, Panasonic, and Global Eagle Entertainment.


Ka-Band


Ka-Band uses 26.5-40 GHz and can deliver up to 70 Mbps, the fastest one available. While it is mostly used for military communications, some airlines, like JetBlue and Virgin America, offer this service to their passengers. It currently only has three satellites that cover the entire globe.


What Does a Plane Have to Do to Offer WiFi to Its Passengers?


Apart from relying on the cell tower or satellite, airplanes also use a series of black boxes that are installed underneath their wall panels. They serve as in-flight WiFi or wireless access points (WAP). WAPs are powered by a QuadRax cable which provides faster speed than antennas offer. It also allows even distribution of data in the aircraft.


How do planes get WiFi without an antenna installed? It’s impossible to answer that question. Airplanes need antenna because they make way for successful data transmission to and from a satellite or tower. The airplane also requires a modem used for receiving information. And lastly, there has to be a distribution system that breaks the bandwidth among the passengers on the plane.


Airplane WiFi Antenna Motion


The antenna must be able to sustain its connection on any tower or satellite even if the airplane travels through the stratosphere at high speeds. To do this, the antenna needs to have two ExtrIQ Gold Bees installed. With their latest advanced technology features, the two Gold series Elmo’s servo drives are able to manage the motion of the azimuth and the elevation of the antenna. They make sure that the antenna maintains a perfect 2 axis motion that always points to the cell tower on the ground or a satellite in space. Because of this, the airline passengers enjoy continuous WiFi access.


Airplane WiFi Antenna Motion


Does Airplane WiFi Work Over the Ocean?


It is challenging to get a WiFi signal over the ocean due to the lack of cell towers nearby. That is why airlines researched solutions that can get WiFi access for transoceanic flight passengers. The solution is through satellites. Yes, it is possible to get a WiFi on planes traversing oceanic routes through satellite-based services.


Why Can’t You Use Phones on Planes?


The main reason why airlines ask you to turn off your phones during flights is that it may interfere with the navigation equipment of the aircraft. Also, active cell phones may disrupt service towers on the ground. Thankfully, we can now switch our phones to “Airplane mode” so we don’t need to turn them off. This allows us to continue working on a business document or snap pictures of the view from above even while in flight.